By Melissa Levin

What is it with the conviction, held primarily in the West, that you can save yourself and the world (well, usually Africans) by shopping? Last week the tony Canadian chain, Holt Renfrew, began selling “the bag that can change the world.” For just $50, consumers can purchase a Tory Burch designed sack, some of the proceeds of which will go to feeding hungry African children. Feeding hungry children, wherever they may be, is a noble cause. But the persistence in undergirding a system that starves them in the first place detracts from the gesture.

The bags have been produced in partnership with Lauren Bush Lauren’s “FEED” NGO (she’s the niece of the former president and married a guy whose last name is Lauren; and that’s her modeling the bag in the pic above). In a promotional/informational article in the Toronto Star, the gorgeous white face of charitable and entrepreneurial giving is foiled by the black mass of youthful faces representing all African children. It is hard to tell whether their little hands are waving to the camera or hailing their saviour.

I am struggling with the arithmetic: consumption of luxury goods = food security.

The straps of the tote were sewn in Spain. Given the precarious nature of the Spanish economy, I would hate to make an argument for doing such creative labour elsewhere. But the charitable face of capitalism would surely shine brighter if it mustered up the courage to manufacture, to set up shop in its zone of generosity.

This FEED/Tory Burch effort comes hot on the tail of an email I received the other day urging me to buy a pair of TOMS shoes, both because they are trendy (and they really are) and because my purchase will result in the company donating a pair of shoes on my behalf to a poor person in a developing country. Again, giving shoes to the shoeless is all very well and good, but we must ask, who labored to make these shoes, in which place, under what conditions?

It would be useful to pause and watch Slavoj Žižek on the ethical implications of charitable giving again:

* You can read Melissa Levin’s previous posts for AIAC here.

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